The cloth on the Kaabah is called the Kiswah and it is changed every year, just once, in a precise, almost well-rehearsed operation.
Who changes the cloth, or kiswah?
It’s usually the gate-keepers of the Kaaba, along with technicians from the Kiswah Factory, which has been manufacturing the fabric adorning the Kaaba for the past six decades. That’s a very long time. These technicians employ a special mobile escalator so as to remove the old cloth and cover it with the new kiswah, one day before the first day of Eid ul-Adha, or on the 9th of Zulhijjah.
Pilgrims visiting the holy Kaaba will see the cloth that has taken a whole year to complete at the hands of highly skilled professional tailors and artisans. The process by which the Kaaba is adorned in the new kiswah entails attaching special metal hooks (47 in total) to the roof of the Kaaba after which the ropes from the old kiswah are cut off so that the new cloth immediately falls above it to cover it. This is to avoid the Kaaba being exposed during the change.
The operation looks cool. How do they do the replacement of the cloth?
In going with tradition, one-third of the cloth from the bottom is lifted up out of the reach of millions of pilgrims who might want to cut off a piece of the cloth to take with them. There is approximately two meters between the marble floor that surrounds the Kaaba and the beginning of the black kiswah.
The final stage is hanging the curtain that covers the door and it is considered one of the most difficult stages in the process of changing the Kaaba’s kiswah. The next step entails lifting the Kaaba cover, which is padded by a thick white cloth that is raised above the marble floor that surrounds the Kaaba.
The venerable ancient tradition of re-adorning the Kaaba with the new kiswah on the same Hijri date every year, after it has been washed in rosewater and perfumed in musk and perfumes, has been repeated ever since the establishment of a center that was entitled with making the kiswah in accordance with the orders of King Abdulaziz Bin Abdul Rahman al Saud in 1927. Since then, it has been responsible for that task.
What happens to the old kiswah? Will it be washed?
Nope. Every year, the older pieces of Kiswa is removed and cut into small pieces to be given away as gifts or souvenirs. Usually though, only certain individuals would get the pieces, so if you’re not a senior guest, official, belonging to a religious institutions, international institutions or Saudi embassies abroad, you can forget about receiving it as gift. You would have to buy them off from the individuals.
In earlier times, Umar bin al-Khattab, the second caliph of the Rashidun Caliphate on 23 August 634 would cut it into pieces and distribute them among pilgrims who used them as shelter from the heat of Mecca.
The present cost of making the kiswa amounts to SAR 17,000,000 (~4,532,951.01 USD). The cover is 658m2 and is made of 670 kg of silk. The embroidery contains 15 kg of gold threads. It consists of 47 pieces of cloth and each piece is 14m long and 101 cm wide. The kiswa is wrapped around the Kaaba and fixed to its base withcopper rings. The manually designed embroidery of the Quranic verses are slowly being aided by computers, thus increasing the speed of production.
What’s on the kiswah?
There are the 99 names of Allah, kalima at-tawhid and tasbihat in embroidery. There is a band of 47-meter long on the top one-third part of the covering. There are Quranic verses related to hajj on the band. Those verses are woven with silver threads dipped in gold water. Verses of the holy Quran are stitched on the cover with golden and silver wires. A single kiswah consumes approximately 670 kilograms of natural silk and has a total measurement of 658 square meters.This process consumes approximately 150 kilograms of gold and silver wire.
Four pieces of fabric that are inscribed with Surat al Ikhlas [a Quranic verse] are placed in every corner of the Kaaba, and 11 pieces in the shape of lamps which are inscribed with Quranic verses are also placed in the four corners of the Kaaba.
The Kiswah Factory
With the passage of time and the progress of the art of weaving and the advancement of technology, the late King Faisal decided to develop the center into a factory that could cope with the Kaaba’s modern needs. In 1972 King Faisal issued a royal decree to expand the center into what has become Mecca’s Kiswah Factory. It was inaugurated under the auspices of the late Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Fahd Bin Abdulaziz on 26 March 1977 during his term as crown prince.
The Kaaba has always maintained its identity of a holy shrine that arouses religious enthusiasm and tranquility in the spirits of Muslims. Therefore, looking at the Kaaba is regarded as a kind of worshipping. The place of the Kaaba in the universe is resembled and compared to the place of the heart in the human body.
In other words, the Kaaba is the heart of the universe. The Muslims that circumambulate around the Kaaba in waves express the beating of that heart. Each Muslim that circumambulates the Kaaba feels some, whether little or much, enthusiasm and grandeur. Al-Batanuni expresses his feelings about it in his book called ar-Rihla al-Hijaziyya as follows:
“The whole congregation gathered with a feeling of the deepest awe in front of the grandiose dominance and lofty splendor, in front of which the greatest spirits felt themselves as nothing. If we had not seen the movements of the bodies during the prayer (salah) and the raising of the hands during the supplication, had not heard whispering of the words uttered and the beating of the hearts in the presence of that endless grandeur, we would have thought that we had been transferred to another realm and life. In fact, we were in a different realm, then. We were in the house of Allah and in the presence of Allah. Our heads were bent down; our tongues were tied. Our hands were turned upwards; our eyes were full of tears; our hearts were full of awe and our inner selves were full of good and clean feelings.”
In another place, he also said, “Makkah is the peak of His power and will and the place where His revelation was sent down; the Kaaba is His shrine and the place of His grandeur and help.”